Straight talk from politicians may be rare, but a moment of inadvertent open-microphone profanity from the Fresno City Council dais several weeks ago might have gone a little too far.
Councilman Clint Olivier, in a conversation with City Manager Bruce Rudd during a lull in the council’s March 31 meeting, uttered the expletive as he referred to the mental state of a man who addressed the council several hours earlier during public comments.
The remarks were picked up by Olivier’s microphone and caught on video recorded by CMAC, the Community Media Access Collaborative, which broadcasts the council meetings and provides recorded video for the city’s website.
By the time the video from the meeting was posted on the city’s website, however, the audio for that 60-second section of the proceedings had been muted at Olivier’s request.
The Bee later asked CMAC for an unaltered version of the video and audio, which was subsequently provided by the city. In it, the expletive and other remarks from Olivier, a former television news reporter, are clearly audible.
Messages left at Olivier’s office and on his cellphone Monday were not returned.
The man Olivier was talking about is Rick Morse, who has a history of legal run-ins with the city as the operator of a medical marijuana dispensary in the Tower District and who ran for mayor in 2012. Morse spoke to the council March 31 during a public discussion of software being sought by the Fresno Police Department.
Rather than address the merits of the software, however, Morse criticized the department, asserting that officers assigned to the Tower District had been instructed by supervisors “not to protect us, so even if we had the officers in the Tower, even if they were sitting across the street, when we dialed 911 we were threatened with arrest because they said we were abusing the 911 system.”
At a previous meeting, Morse registered a similar complaint and provided the City Council with a copy of a video DVD regarding his claims.
Later during the March 31 meeting, following a string of ceremonial proclamations to start the afternoon session, Olivier – apparently unaware that the microphone in front of him was active – leaned toward Rudd seated next to him and said, “He’s certifiably nuts, you know that? Rick Morse is certifiably nuts. … He’s been at every debate I’ve been to handing out those DVDs to people.”
Olivier had taken part in several debates over the prior few weeks as a Republican candidate in the April 5 special election for the state’s 31st Assembly District.
A few seconds later, Olivier added that Morse “fried his brains with dope and now he’s (expletive) nuts.” Rudd’s microphone apparently was off and his side of the exchange was largely inaudible.
Bryan Harley, CMAC’s facilities/operations manager, said the entire meeting – including Olivier’s expletive – went out live to the public. “Even then, if you listened to the clip, it was not easy to hear, you have to turn up the volume a bit,” Harley said. “For the rebroadcasts, we showed the version with the sound lowered so the expletive could not be heard.” Comcast and AT&T both air the meetings on their public-affairs channels.
In the video posted to the city’s website, the sound from the exchange between Olivier and Rudd is muted. In an April 19 email response to The Bee’s request for the uncensored video and audio, city spokesman Mark Standriff acknowledged that “there was a section during a transition period between the ceremonial presentations and the resumption of official business where a council member made an inappropriate comment that included an expletive.”
“The council member asked if the comment was on the record. We said we didn’t know and asked the city attorney for counsel,” Standriff said. “The city attorney advised us that it was not part of the official record, so upon the council member’s request, and with the approval of city attorney, the volume of the audio portion of the profane comments was dropped with no edit to the video and the volume restored when council resumed its business.”
Standriff added that the minutes taken of the meeting by the city clerk “are the official record of council meetings.” The city provided the unaltered video to The Bee on April 20.
On Monday, when told of Olivier’s remarks, Morse let out a laugh. “That’s beautiful; I can’t believe it,” he said.
“I can’t speak to the state of mind of Mr. Olivier; maybe he was mourning his special election,” Morse added. “But what I’ve been asking Mr. Olivier and everyone else on the council, and I will be asking again, is why the city has instructed the police to not protect me, my pregnant daughter-in-law and son, and our patients.”
Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said that he believes the video recording is part of the public record of the meeting under the state’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act. But, he added, “the Brown Act is not real clear with respect to whether the city can, as in this case, sanitize unflattering comments made by a council member.”
Ewert said that the city’s established practice of airing its meetings live and posting the videos online bolsters the view that the video is part of the public record. “It would be interesting to know what standard the city has for editing these videos, since it obviously edited the video in question,” he said. “What is the protocol? That has to be written somewhere, because the city has gone to great pains to see that the public has access to that official video recording.
“Especially when the practice has created an expectation in the public that what they’re seeing online is the official record,” Ewert added. “If there are edited versions, do they inform the public of that fact?”
On Monday, Standriff said this particular change to the video “was an isolated request.”
“The city has no standard protocol regarding the videotaping of its City Council meetings, other than our agreement with CMAC to broadcast the meetings live and then produce a video, which we post as a supplement to the official record, the city clerk’s minutes,” he said. “We were happy to provide the original video of the March 31 council meeting for The Bee for your records.”